Wicked Good: Wicked Sisters offers insanity burgers, magnificent fries, and a touch of McCabe's vibe

When McCabe's suffered a fire in December 2014 that ended up closing the restaurant permanently, it was a loss felt keenly in Hampden. Sure, there were (and are) plenty of other taverns and restaurants just blocks away. But McCabe's had its own particular casual vibe, one that drew patrons from a range of ages and neighborhoods for well-executed pub food in an authentically friendly setting. It was a place to go after a softball game, for a meal with kids and grandparents, or an inexpensive option on a night when no one wanted to cook. It was an easy go-to.

Wicked Sisters stepped into McCabe's shoes when in opened in the spot late last year. The service is still warm and welcoming, and although the pub—owned and operated by sisters Carrie Podles and Lori Gjerde, and Gjerde's husband, Charlie (also owner of several local establishments including Huck's American Craft, and brother to James Beard Award winner Spike Gjerde)—is basically unrecognizable from the former establishment, the renovations bring a freshness to what was a dark space. Outside, someone has a beautiful eye with the planters that brim with pretty arrangements of herbs, flowers, and the occasional veg, which dress up the well-worn concrete sidewalk. Inside, brick walls are a warm white offset by black accents and honey-colored wood floors. Each of two levels boasts a bar and televisions along with separate spaces for high tops, tables, and booths. On the night we dined, the soundtrack skewed GenX high-school nostalgia (Big Country, Men at Work, The Fixx—twice), but the crowd felt at least a generation older and younger.

Like the décor, the menu is simple and streamlined. There are not a million choices here, and that's to the restaurant's credit—better to not try to be everything to everyone. The kitchen is also unafraid to offer the familiar as well as renditions of recent trends. You'll find crab mac and cheese, sweet and spicy Brussels sprouts, and a lovely roasted beet salad ($11) laced with pomegranate seeds and goat cheese that reminds you why this combination was good in the first place.

On an earlier lunchtime visit, we stuck to sandwiches, and during a subsequent meal at dinner time, we saw many people doing the same. Sitting at a high top on the second floor watching an Orioles game, chowing down on an insanity burger ($15) loaded up with onion ring, slaw, bacon, and cheddar seems de rigueur (alright, and a little decadent). Plus, the fries are magnificent—thickly cut, deeply brown, crunchy outside. Despite its smoked bourbon barbecue sauce, a chicken sandwich ($13) seems a little tame in comparison.

Regardless of whether you choose sandwiches or entrees or an assemblage of starters, know that portions are generous. I was advised that I'd definitely want an entrée if I ordered the baked meatball appetizer, but honestly, an average appetite could have been perfectly satisfied with the three golf ball sized meatballs ($13) drenched in bright marinara provided by Woodberry Kitchen under a blanket of mozzarella.

Dinner options rotate and might include a pork chop, crab cakes, and several steak options. The steak and fries feels a little pricey at $26 for sirloin, and though the meat was appropriately seasoned just enough, it arrived more medium than the requested medium rare. The accompanying asparagus, however, was plain but well prepared with a nice snap to it.

"Everything bagel" salmon ($24) sounds gimmicky, but proved to be one of the better menu options. All the seeds and spices of an everything bagel coat a generous fillet of salmon, which sits atop shredded potatoes and a refreshing preparation of shaved fennel. There could be a little less of the yogurt sauce that's drizzled over it all—the dish is already rich enough—but the whole effect feels creative and just tastes good.

Should you find room for dessert, you may be tempted by mason jars of ice cream sundaes and a wine-infused frozen concoction known as wine cream. Given the choice of roughly two dozen taps, I suggest you go in another alcoholic direction and choose a brew from the very fine, mostly locally-focused beer list as dessert. Raise a pint to the former McCabe's and the future of Wicked Sisters.

Wicked Sisters is open for lunch Monday through Friday, brunch Saturday and Sunday, and dinner seven days a week.

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